Managing building and maintenance contracts: our response to recent media reports

Cllr Clayeon McKenzie, Cabinet Member for Housing Services, writes:

Residents living in council homes and estates may have been concerned after reading about an internal review by one of our scrutiny commissions two years ago which explored the behaviours of some building contractors we employ to carry out work to homes and estates.

I would like to offer reassurance and provide some context. There will always be significant challenges in managing large and complex contracts, an issue unfortunately inherent within the industry, but we will never stop looking to better our ways of working to ensure continued improvements in what we deliver, this is why our procurement team has been given dedicated resources to help with construction contracts, and, in future, external expertise will be sought where specialist advice is needed. Officers have also been looking at a wide range of contract types and terms to ensure all new contracts build on lessons learned.

At front and centre of our improvement strategy is our vision and total commitment to identify opportunities, wherever it is feasible, to use our in-house repairs and maintenance team instead of using external companies. Already this team has been carrying out increased numbers of electrical works, which had been done by contractors in the past; and in the coming months and years, we are looking to further include larger-scale painting and roofing jobs; and, under our new procurement strategy, our in-house team will be considered first for all jobs.

This will mean we will exercise even more control of work being carried out, and, as a result, I am confident residents will see even greater improvements to the homes and estates in which they live.

Nearly 45 percent of residents in Hackney live in council homes and estates. We invest around £60million each year into home improvements, including thousands of new kitchens and bathrooms, as well as complex estate and building maintenance work, such as hundreds of new roofs and windows. This work delivers significant, impactful and immediate benefits to residents.

At every turn, the absolute focus of Housing Services is to ensure we invest properly and prudently in homes and buildings to guarantee they are safe and modern, both for residents now and for future generations. As part of this, we always, always aim to achieve value-for-money and quality in all the building work done by us and done for us. This is reached through careful, early and ongoing scrutiny of all contracts we manage and by ensuring those contracts are agreed in accordance with strict procurement procedures.

I welcome the report from my fellow councillors and the recommendations they made, all of which we have implemented or we are in the process of doing so, including bringing the clerks of works position in-house - a role which quality assures work prior to any payments being made to contractors - and providing more resources to our quantity surveyors to carry out even greater levels of assessment on contract accounts.

I would also like to thank the officers mentioned in the scrutiny report who ensured that, when issues did arise with a contractor, they acted quickly, proportionality and effectively to counter them and ensure the work was delivered within budget and to a standard of which we - and residents - could be confident and proud.

I recognise that even one issue with a contractor is one too many, but we must be clear about the scope of the review: the findings relate to the performance of one specific partnering contract, that was ended, and a single discussion - some two years ago - focusing on the general benefits and risks with our partnering contracts.

We manage around 70 construction-related contracts in Housing Services at any one time amounting to around £100m of work in any given year. The vast majority of our partnering contracts are delivered successfully, effectively and for value-for-money, and we appreciate the difficult work our contractors do for us and for our residents.